Parenting a Preemie
Babies who are born before their due date, especially those who weigh less than 3 pounds, need special care during the first several years of their lives. Following is a list of suggestions regarding the care of your baby when he comes home from the hospital.
- It is essential that you take your baby to the doctor for regular check-ups. Your pediatrician will track your baby's growth to make sure he is getting the proper nutrients. He may recommend vitamins and possibly special formula for your infant.
- At first, most premature babies need 8 to 10 feedings a day. Don't wait longer than 4 hours between feedings, because if you do, your baby may get dehydrated. Six to eight wet diapers a day show that your baby is getting enough breast milk or formula. Premature babies often spit up after a feeding. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you think your baby is spitting up too much.
- Most doctors advise giving a premature baby solid food at 4 to 6 months after the baby's original due date (not the birth date). Because premature babies are slower to develop swallowing ability, they may choke if solid food is given earlier.
- Premature babies sleep more hours each day than full-term babies; however they sleep for shorter periods of time.
- All babies, including premature babies, should be put to bed on their backs, not on their stomachs. Use a firm mattress and no pillow. Sleeping on the stomach and sleeping on soft mattresses may increase your baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Premature babies are also more likely than full-term babies to have sight and hearing problems. If you notice that your baby doesn't seem to hear you, tell your doctor. You may also notice that your baby's eyes frequently cross. Infants usually grow out of this. If it persists take your baby to an eye doctor.
- Immunizations are given to premature babies at the same ages they are given to full-term babies. Your baby might be helped by getting a flu shot when she or he reaches 6 months of age. Premature babies might get sicker with the flu than full-term babies. Talk with your doctor about flu shots for your family. This can help protect your baby from catching the flu from someone in the family.
- Premature babies usually pass through developmental milestones such as crawling, walking, and talking later than full-term infants. Your pediatrician can guide you through these stages and reassure you that your preemie is on track. If you or your pediatrician have any concerns about your child's development, call Alabama's Early Intervention System (1-800-543-3098) for assessments and services.
- Be careful not to over stimulate your infant. Preemies have underdeveloped nervous systems. Loud noises, sudden movements, bright lights, and vigorous touch can cause your preemie distress. Many doctors recommend skin to skin contact and very premature babies benefit from firm deep touches. Pretend that your hands are the walls of a uterus. Don't lightly stroke or feather-touch him, but rather place a firmly cupped hand on his head and/or curled up legs and then remain still with a firm, constant pressure.
- Know that parents in your situation frequently feel sad and somewhat disappointed. It's a time of stress and confusion, when emotions run from helplessness and detachment to fear and guilt. This was not the ideal you envisioned when you thought about this special time. These feelings are natural and normal but if you experience feelings of despair and hopelessness which last longer than a few weeks contact your doctor. You may be experiencing post partum depression.
- Many parents cope with feelings of helplessness by becoming experts on the care of their baby. You can take back the control you lost when you delivered early by learning all about your baby's medical conditions and procedures. Getting involved in everyday care also helps you build a strong bond with your baby.
- Seek out support groups and other parents of preemies with whom you can share your experiences.
Although the challenges of parenting a preemie can be overwhelming at times, there are rewards also. Watching the amazing growth and resiliency of a pre-term infant can renew hope and optimism.